By Chris J. Walke
Rising stars, saxophonist Nubya Garcia and three-time Grammy-Nominated drummer Nate Smith recently performed on the same bill at the Ford Theatre. The drummer who’s worked with Robin Eubanks, Dave Holland, Jose James, Chris Potter, Norah Jones and even Michael Jackson showcased selections from his latest albums, Grammy-Nominated Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhereand Kinfolk 2: See TheBirds. During the near seamless high-energy set, his band consisting of Fima Ephron-bass, Brad Allen Williams-guitar, Jaleel Shaw-reeds and Jon Cowherd-keyboards were generously featured and wailed away.
Additionally, the bandleader impressed the audience with his amazing polyrhythms and hard-driving energy. The set encompassed contemporary jazz, funk, mainstream jazz, fusion and neo soul with Smith’s signature tune multi-cadenced “Skip Step” setting the audience into orbit. Additionally, vocalist Amma Whatt came out during the latter part of the segment and glowingly serenaded everyone with “Monday Morning.”
London-based saxophonist and composer Garcia who in 2021 won Downbeat’s Critic’s Poll Rising Star Award, Tenor Saxophone; the Parliamentary Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year Award, and the Jazz Journalist Award, channeled African, reggae “dub” and London underground influences into her music. With Greg Spero-keyboards, Lawrence Shaw-bass and Sam Jones-drums who dynamically propelled the band, she enthralled the audience with her playing, personality and charming accent.
The saxophonist who made her LA debut in 2019 returned to mostly showcased tunes from her groundbreaking CD Source. Amongst the tracks performed were the reggae flavored title track, expanded and remixed groove “La Cumbia Me Está Llamando” and Coltrane-like “Pace.” It was introed by the bassist and featured the bandleader blazing away to thoroughly delight the crowd. They responded with an enthusiastic standing ovation that hopefully will compel Garcia to come back to So Cal in less than three years. For more info go: www.nubyagarcia.com, www.natesmithdrums.com and www.theford.com
The Concert in the Dome series at the Mount Wilson Observatory continued with an afternoon of “Modern Art Songs” performed by a trio composed of Michael Valerio-bass/vocals, Mona Takavoli-percussion/vocals and Errol Cooney-guitar. In the highly resonant setting, the musicians served up a diverse program of pop songs by Paul Simon, Lennon and McCartney, Lieber and Stoller and Carole King, along with one by the bassist/singer. He got things underway with an easy-flowing versions of Ben E. King’s serenading ballad “Stand By Me” and Curtis Mayfield’s social anthem “People Get Ready” with the percussionist also singing.
Intriguingly, Valerio briefly departed from the well-known songs and gave a short treatise and demonstration of Jaco Pastorius’ innovative and influential electric bass playing. That lead the trio adroitly playing the legend’s composition “Continuum,” which had reverberating and atmospheric qualities well suited for spacious dome.
Upon returning to more familiar pop material, the musicians leaped into lively standard “Blues Skies” that was boosted by bandleader’s cheerful singing that drew strong crowd reactions. On the heels of that Valerio inserted folky song “You Resonate With Me” to convey the good feelings he had playing with his bandmembers. Staying with the sentimental mood were gentle renditions of the Beatles’ “In My Life” and “Black Bird.”
Contrarily, standard “How High The Moon,” “Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” and Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” were livelier. They were garnished by Cooney zesty playing, while Valerio cheerfully sung and Takavoli added vibrant percussion to produce a delightful afternoon of music. For more info go: www.mtwilson.edu/concerts/
Legendary powerhouse drummer Billy Cobham, best known for his work with Miles Davis, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jazz is Dead injected a special appearance at The Canyon Club Agora Hills that wasn’t originally scheduled for his 23-city Crosswind Tour. As expected, a nearly capacity crowd was delighted that the drummer added the So Cal date and loved every second played. With Mark Whitfield-guitar, Tim Landers-bass and Scott Tibbs-keyboards, Cobham quickly jumped into the high-energy title track of his 1974 second solo album that’s also the name of his tour. “Pleasant Pheasant” also from the same recording kept the scorching and hard-hitting vibe going.
Taking a minor respite from conventional fusion, Cobham paid homage to his Panama roots with Latin flavored not yet recorded groove “Paseo del Mar,” named after the street where his family resided in Panama City. It coolly flowed and featured Whitfield’s jazzy playing that was well-suited for the tune, along with the bandleader’s signature drumming and Tibbs’ zesty keyboard/organ playing. “Becalmed” another new composition was much more relaxed as its title suggests and somewhat new age-like and ambient featuring Tibbs and Whitfield.
“On The Move” from 2019 Time Lapsed Photos, a mix of Cobham’s classics revisited and new pieces, returned to fiery crowd-pleasing fusion. Not to be forgotten was a solo section from the drum god, who at 78 is not as dynamic force he was in the ‘70s, yet still impressed the audience. The solo segued into his better-known ground breaking compositions from that era, such as “Taurian Matador” and the immortal “Stratus,” intensely propelled by longtime Cobham cohort bassist Landers.
The concert could have ended at that point and the audience would have been satisfied. Nonetheless, to their delight, the bandleader continued with “In Search of Snoopy,” an updated jam-like take on “Snoopy’s Search/Red Baron” from his landmark 1973 recording Spectrum. The crowd erupted after that with a standing ovation and howls for an encore, but Cobham understandably was done for the evening. For more info go to: www.billycobham.com and wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com/canyon-agoura-hills/
It’s pretty much a regular thing—Herbie Hancock performing at the Hollywood Bowl—yet much to his credit the octogenarian (82-years old), who’s also the William Powers and Carolyn Powers Creative Chair for Jazz for the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2010, keeps the music interesting, engaging and most importantly for non-jazz attendees—entertaining. Hancock’s secret weapons are his musicians, a willingness to utilize his players unique talents on their own terms and an appetite for improvisation explorations that is nearly boundless.
The keyboard wizard and humanitarian brought out his special guest, nearly two-year old grandson Dru, who played the opening piano notes as he sat on his grandfather’s lap. That, of course, drew appreciative sighs from the audience. Afterwards, Hancock with Lionel Loueke-guitar, James Genus-bass, Elena Pinderhughes-flute/vocals and Justin Tyson-drums, along with guest trumpeter Terence Blanchard launched into “Overture.” It was an atmospheric melding of compositions ranging from Miles Davis, Headhunters and West Coast Get Down embodying classic jazz, fusion, funk and world music.
Highlighting the lengthy and very dynamic piece was Pinderhughes soaring flute, Blanchard’s assaulting trumpet, Loueke’s exotic effects-driven bass and vocals and Hancock’s exceptional keyboard work, along with the muscular foundation by Genus and Tyson. Afterwards, the high caliber and grounded bandleader took a moment to speak about his lifelong friend reedist Wayne Shorter before playing his immortal “Footprints” arranged by Blanchard. He also slyly endorsed his cousin Holly Hancock who’s running for Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, and urged everyone to vote.
The trumpeter/composer/arranger continued with electronic effects for the easy flowing version of the number, adorned by Hancock’s brilliant piano playing and Loueke’s distinctive mix of blues, fusion and Benin textures. Extending more in funk was Headhunter groove “Actual Proof” featuring all the band intensely jamming away to the audience’s delight. Somewhat from the same time period and genre was “Come Running to Me” featuring Hancock’s vocorder vocals from his 1978 album Sunlight.
Loueke also served up electronic affected vocals for “Secret Sauce” with Genus, Blanchard, Pinderhughes and the bandleader on strap-on synth all trading off solos. Alternatively, ethereal and equally hard-driving “Phoelix” brought the guitarist and flutist together for serene vocals, while they also turned in stirring solos with Hancock jamming away on synth.
Wrapping up the intriguing show was the keyboardist’s immortal hits “Cantaloupe Island” and encore “Chameleon.” They were overwrought with unparallel band interactions, creativity and solos that have become the Gold Standard for funk-fusion. Of course, with one of the grand architects of the genre it is to be expected, yet still is very electrifying. The concert opener was the Free Nationals a youthful Los Angeles-based funk R&B group who had the audience grooving away, especially when joined by drummer/rapper/singer/producer Anderson.Paak for “Gidget.” For info go to: www.herbiehancock.com, www.freenationals.co and www.hollywoodbowl.com
MUSIQUE/IQUEled by Artistic Director Rachael Worby presentedL.A. COMPOSED: A FESTIVAL OF LOS ANGELES MUSIC –THE SONGS AND STORIES OF CENTRAL AVENUE at Jefferson High in South Central Los Angeles. During Los Angeles’ most segregated period, the 1920’s-1950’s, Central Avenue was the heart of its African American cultural life. In many respects it was LA’s answer to the Harlem Renaissance, and the epicenter of the West Coast jazz scene. Consequently, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and other icons were regulars in the local clubs, hotels and restaurants.
Without a doubt, there were many opportunities for Afro-American artists in films, theatres, recordings and tours during that era. Yet, when these artists wanted to go out and/or perform for Black audiences the Central Avenue sector was their only option to avoid “Jim Crow” harassment, possible arrest and more, much like other metropolitan areas throughout the country during that period of history.
Celebrated dance icon Alvin Ailey went to Jefferson High only a couple of blocks away from the mecca Central Avenue, along with others who would become famous and make an impact in the arts, sports, cinema and even politics. Some of them were: dancer Carmen De Lavallade, actor/ football player Woody Strode, actress Juanita Moore the fourth African American nominated for an Oscar, animator and character designer Iwao Takamoto, Educator/UN mediator/ Nobel Peace Prize Winner Ralph Bunche, and syndicated columnist and novelist best known for his jazz criticism Stanley Crouch.
In music, noted alumnus are: vibraphonist Roy Ayers, singer/songwriter Richard Berry (“Louie, Louie”), Emmy-nominated music director/composer/producer Rickey Minor, record producer, singer-songwriter; five-time Grammy Award winner Barry White, influential pianist Horace Tapscott, blues and R&B guitarist/songwriter Johnny “Guitar” Watson, iconic saxophonist Dexter Gordon, innovative drummer Chico Hamilton, talented trumpeter Art Farmer, ground-breaking saxophonist Vi Redd, legendary blues/R&B singer Etta James, gospel/rock singer Merry Clayton and many, many more.
The legacy created by those artists and others was celebrated at historic Jefferson High School’s Samuel R. Browne Auditorium, where their talents were incubated, refined and flourished. Worby and special guest Myron McKinley, Music Director and pianist for Earth, Wind and Fire presented an entertaining program acknowledging the school’s long list of famous alumni, featuring singers Sy Smith and LaVance Colley, the DC6 Singers Collective, the Central Avenue Jazz Choir and McKinley’s Big Band.
Amongst the standout performances with historical background introductions were: “Lift Every Voice And Sing” beautifully sung by the DC6 Singers Collective. The song, now considered the “African American anthem” was written by Harlem Renaissance luminary James Weldon Johnson, who opened the LA NAACP branch in 1928 and stayed at the Somerville Hotel that later became the celebrated Dunbar Hotel on Central Avenue. It was built by John and Vada Somerville, the first African Americans to graduate from the USC School of Dentistry. Also, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)” by hotel regular Ellington, featured spirited singing by Smith, Colley and the Singers Collective with the band led by McKinley.
In 1943 the cast of Stormy Weather stayed at the Dunbar Hotel and a clip of Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehaving” was shown. Afterwards, Colley spoke about Waller and smoothly rendered the classic song with Smith joining in later and almost taking over. Cab Calloway was also in the film and stayed at the hotel too, which led to Smith with the singers sassily singing his hot jiving “Zaz, Zuh, Zaz.” Additionally, a clip with Calloway was briefly shown from the Nat King Cole’s Show (1956-1957), which broke barriers as the first TV show hosted by an African American. McKinney spoke of Cole’s influence on him and rendered lively standard “Sweet Georgia Brown” with the rhythm players.
Smith talked about growing in Washington, DC and her father, also named Sy Smith influence on her and briefly sang Etta James’s “Trust Me,” and standard “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” which drew strong applause. Tieing it all into Central Ave, Smith said its residents should be proud of their heritage. Worby also spoke about Samuel Rodney Browne, whom the auditorium is named after. He studied music at Jefferson High School and USC.
After graduating from college Browne wanted to teach music in the Los Angeles Unified School District, but it wasn’t hiring African American teachers. He fought the mandate for three years and in 1936 he became one of three teachers to cross the color barrier and began teaching at his alma mater high school. He was an extremely dedicated, strict and passionate teacher who enriched and inspired many students.
The Central Avenue Jazz Choir and DC6 Singers Collective came together for doo wop classic “The Great Pretender” to draw strong audience response. Carmen De Lavallade, Alvin Ailey’s dance partner was honored through two students (male and female) from the Lula Washington Dance Theatre gracefully doing a dance interpretation of “’Round Midnight” as Smith sweetly sang with flowing band accompaniment. The choir, collective, Smith, Colley and band continued with the popular Louis Armstrong song “What a Wonderful World.”
During the closing moments of the concert, Worby called on Etta James’ former partner Billy Foster to sing “I’d Rather Go Blind” a capella. It was followed by James’ R&B hit “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” with Colley, the other singers and band wailing away. Worby also mentioned that James as a teenager was friendly with policeman Bradley who went on to become Mayor Tom Bradley. He in turn recommended her to sing in opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics. Wrapping the entertaining and historically detailed concert was “When The Saints Go Marching In” with the band and singers roaring away. For more info go to: www.muse-ique.com, www.angelswalkla.org/walks/central-avenue/ and
The Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by the world’s most popular “Jazz Ambassador,” trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, commanded the stage at the-Hollywood Bowl. Although the 15-person orchestra is very technical and refined, they swing hard and have fun playing together. Also, Marsalis always takes time to talk about the numbers’ origins and significance. A perfect example was the opening numbers “Blues Walke and Jelly Roll Morton’s ragtime classic “The Crave” done jazz orchestra style with players roaring away. “The Muffin Man,” “Coisa #2” and Ellington’s “Toot Suite: Part 4-Ready, Go” the show closing number shifted to breezy orchestration and superb swinging, while also featured the bandleader soloing strongly.
Alternatively, trumpet legend’s Woody Shaw’s “The Moontrane,” “Far East Suite Movement #8” and “Amad” an homage to Ahmad Jamal were in modern context. They vividly showcased the orchestra’s ability to go beyond traditional large ensemble material. Soulful swinging propelled by pianist Dan Nimmer shined for “Temperance” and “Fiesta Mojo” arranged by Marcus Printup showcased Dizzy Gillespie’s incredible flair for melding jazz, Caribbean and Afro-Cuban music. Once again, Marsalis’ knack for making jazz entertaining and accessible captivated the Hollywood Bowl attendees.
Opening for JLO was the Manhattan Transfer who embarked on a fast-paced set, priming the audience for their 50th Anniversary and Final World Tour next year that will include the Bowl. The popular vocal quartet was made up of Janis Siegel (alto), Alan Paul (tenor), Cheryl Bentyne (soprano) and Trist Curless (bass, replacing founding member Tim Hauser in 2014).
The singers got the audience’s attention with Bobby Troup’s classic “Route 66.” Keeping the flames hot with a talented backing band were vintage jazz hits “Tuxedo Junction” and “Stompin’ at Mahogany Hall,” ‘60s rock anthem “Groovin’,” 60’s doo wop “The Boy From New York City” and totally in a class of their were sizzling vocalese versions of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloop (Flip Out!)” and Weather Report’s “Birdland.” For more info go to: manhattantransfer.net and www.hollywoodbowl.com.
Toronto-based vocalist Laura Anglade was born in Brousse-Le-Chateau in Southerm France and raised in Connecticut, where she was strongly influenced by her parents’ gypsy jazz and classical backgrounds. That foundation along with a strong affinity for Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Etta Jones, Anita O’Day, Chet Baker and Blossom Dearie greatly impacted Anglade’s approach to singing.
She though, definitely has her own unique identity, with two solo albums to her credit. Additionally, the Canadian has collaborated with David Lahm, Ranee Lee, Andre White, Jean-Michel Pilc and Alec Walkington to become a fast-emerging international artist. Anglade recently performed at The Theater at The Ace Hotel as the show opener for Melody Gardot’s two week-long Entre eux Duex Tour. With guitarist David Rourke she did a delightful short program of standards and songs from her recordings.
Among them was a melodically sung version of “Where or When” that wowed the crowd and Michel Legrand’s exquisite “La Valse des lilas” from her new French sung CD Venez Donc Chez Moi. The latter number also showcased her remarkable scatting skills and Rourke’s tasteful strumming. Anglade also injected soothing vintage ballad “You Do Something to Me” that shifted up-tempo for light swinging and soloing into her set, along with “You Turned The Tables on Me” also done as a ballad for a captivating close.
Gardot in concert contrasted Anglade with a whirlwind of energy that featured her band jamming Latin style to many songs from her latest CD Entre eux Duex. Its a duo collaboration with French born pianist/composer Philippe Baden Powell (son of the renowned Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell). They led off with “Berimbau,” composed by Powell’s father and featured their percussionist playing a berimbau and other instruments.
From there the singer and counterparts spanned jazz, pop and world music beginning with ballad “Love Song” by Lesley Duncan who recorded a duet of it with Elton John. Standards “C’est Magnifique” popularized by Ella Fitzgerald and “What is This Thing Called Love” showcased Gardot and Powell’s jazzy aspects.
Bossa was highlighted through “Samba em Prelúdio” by celebrated Brazilian poet/song writer/diplomat Vinicius de Moraes from the new album. Additionally, the duo’s highly romantic “This Foolish Heart Could Love You,” Gardot’s French sung “Les étoiles” and tropical/South African merging “Lemanja” as the encorefurther enthralled the audience. For more info go to: melodygardot.co.uk, lauraanglade.com and acehotel.com/los-angeles/theatre/
A MoodSwing Reunion brought titans, Joshua Redman on saxophone, Christian McBride on bass, Brad Mehldau on piano and Brian Blade on drums together. Redman’s impactful quartet initially recorded MoodSwing in 1994 as the musicians’ respective individual careers were simultaneously starting to gain traction. In 2020, 26 years later they reunited for RoundAgain. while 2022 release LongGone maintains their momentum and launched a world tour that included the Soraya as the initial jazz concert for its 2022-2023 season.
In performance the superstar musicians who between them all have amassed 39 Grammy Nominations and 13 Grammy’s were like a fine wine improving with age. Original compositions spanning their works, such as Redman’s “Mischief,” and “Undertow” with touches of classical on the second record were post-bop oriented, featuring the saxophonist blazing away with stellar support and accompanying solos from his bandmembers. While Mehldau’s “Father” and “Moe Honk” boosted by McBride soloing also from their second outing bordered on chamber jazz at times and were adorned by subtle and masterful playing.
From a more conventional and straight-ahead standpoint, McBride’s “The Shade of the Cedar Tree” from his first recording as bandleader Gettin’ to it was garnished with an extended bass solo. Redman’s tenor sax textures were in the same vein for “Sweet Sorrow” from the debut Moonswing and with McBride’s tune drew strong crowd reactions. “Disco Ears” from the quartet’s latest project proved to be the most upbeat of the numbers played and was propelled by Blade’s resounding drumming as the other players blazed away for the concert closer. The audience not content with the show ending demanded an encore and the group served up an equally energetic number that’s not on any of the ensemble’s records. For more info go to: www.joshuaredman.com and www.thesoraya.org.
The Monterey Jazz Festival throughout its unrivaled 65-year-long history has demonstrated an uncanny ability to adapt, survive and flourish. COVID-19 made MJF a virtual event with previous concerts highlighted in 2020 and in 2021it was reduced to limited capacity, mostly daytime concerts.
This year, number 65, the festival came roaring back with full capacity audiences and a complete schedule featuring a colossal roster of artists. Concurrently, there were only four outdoor stages that were deluged by a storm several days earlier, compared to almost twice as many indoor and outdoor ones during pre-COVID years. Despite all that MJF was dried out and fully functional by its first day, and attendees excitedly entered the Monterey County Fairgrounds ready for musicians and singers to soothe, delight and sometimes astound them.
Meeting all the criteria and exceeding it was vocalist Samara Joy (McLendon) on the Westend Stage. The 23-year-old impressively possesses the confidence, technique and charm of a seasoned pro twice her age. Supported by guitarist Pasquale Grasso, bassist Ari Roland, and drummer Keith Balla, she made her MJF debut and sounded like a mixture of Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, but definitely with her own style and approach. Joy thrilled the audience with classics “Round Midnight,” Linger Awhile the title track of her newly released album, which also showcased her guitarist, and a jazzy/blues vamp of “Never Trust a Man.” It blew the audience away and there’s no doubt that the young vocalist will definitely return to MJF.
Vastly different was former child prodigy guitarist Julian Lage’s Trio that was somewhat edgy and very improvisational. With bandmates bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King (also of the Bad Plus). They appeared on the same stage afterwards to showcase selections from their newly released recording View With a Room and previous outing Squint. The set was essentially a freewheeling, slightly raucous and crowd-pleasing fusion-like jam. Numbers such as “Fairbanks,” “Boo’s Blues” and “Saint Rose,” along with atmospheric/country flavored ballad “Call of the Canyon” seamlessly flowed together to highlight the bands’ albums.
On the Jimmy Lyon’s Main Stage, A MoodSwing Reunion brought titans, Joshua Redman on saxophone, Christian McBride on bass, Brad Mehldau on piano and Brian Blade on drums together. The impactful quartet initially recorded Redman’s MoodSwing in 1994 as the musicians’ respective careers were starting to gain traction.
In 2020, 26 years later they reunited for RoundAgain. while 2022 release LongGone maintains their momentum and launched a world tour that included MJF. In performance they were like a fine wine improving with age. Original compositions spanning their works, such as post-bop “Mischief,” classical tinged “Undertow,” slow burning ballad “Your Part to Play” and vibrantly swinging “The Oneness of Two (in Three)” exhibited the quartet’s brilliance and incredible cohesiveness.
MJF On Tour-Celebrating 65 also on the main stage rekindled the festival’s ambassador-like group with a new multi-generational assemblage of artists after a two-year layoff. Spearheading the group were multi-Grammy Winners vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater (also NEA Jazz Master and a Tony Winner) and Kurt Elling. Saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and Artist-in-Residence keyboardist Christian Sands represented the rising stars of jazz. While bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn were the steadfast journeyman players.
Elling heated things up with a vocalese interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s classic “Speak No Evil” that included segments of poetry and verse, and Sands soloing extensively. In her typical audacious fashion Bridgewater with Benjamin erupted the set with a captivating version of Nina Simone’s highly provocative “Four Women.” With the rhythm players the saxophonist also did a scintillating tribute for recently departed Pharoah Sanders, and John Coltrane with his composition “Liberia.” Bringing the set to a close was Elling and Bridgewater together, with Benjamin rapping and playing to cut loose on Les McCann/Eddie Harris’ searing and timely “Compare to What.”
Continuing in somewhat the same vein on the closing day of MJF on the Lyons Stage was Ravi Coltrane’s fast paced: Cosmic Music, A Contemporary Exploration of The Music of John And Alice Coltrane with Special Guest Brandee Younger. Harpist Younger beautifully rendered Coltrane matriarch’s atmospheric and spiritual pieces “Los Caballos,” “Journey in Satchidananda” and “Blue Nile” with Rashaan Carter on bass, Gadi Lehavi on keyboards and Elé Howell on drums solidly supporting. In honor of his iconic father, Coltrane blazed away on modal number “Wise One” and an abbreviated version of the deeply spiritual “A Love Supreme.” Notably, the set was dedicated to Pharoah Sanders’ and drew a standing ovation as it closed with his signature composition “The Creator Has a Master Plan.”
Another extraordinary MJF 65 moment was celebrated film scorer/composer and also a Next Generation alumnus, Kris Bowers’ 2022 MJF Commission Asylo (sanctuary in Greek). It commemorated the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s 30th anniversary and unlike previous commissions had visual and natural soundscape components exhibiting rarely seen marine life and interstellar vistas. Encompassing a powerful orchestra and his own amazing piano playing, Bowers’ work was serene, complex, stimulating and also edgy, which totally mesmerized the audience.
80-year-old Cuban master pianist Chucho Valdés was by far the oldest 2022 MJF performer. Nevertheless, his massive 23-piece ensemble directed by Hilario Durán and John Beasley plus MONK’estra was probably the most dynamic of all the performances. Valdés’ La Creación (The Creation) was a vibrant three-movement suite intermixing the pianist incomparable playing, a combo, vocals, big band and dancers that set the Lyons Stage on fire.
Additionally, Beasley’s MONK’estra inserted a couple of Monk’s archetypal compositions into the set for extra kindling. About a decade or more younger were the “take no prisoners” hard-bop sextet The Cookers, Dave Stryker Quartet featuring Warren Wolf Reunion! and The Reunion Trio featuring Bruce Forman, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton.
In the mid-range age group were the all-women ensemble Artemis, co-led by pianist/Musical Director Renee Rosnes and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, with drummer Allison Miller, alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino, tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover and bassist Noriko Ueda. This edition of the group was without a vocalist and performed a suite-like segment of original compositions. Elling resurfaced with Superblue, a funk/R&B oriented group that included octopus-like guitarist/bassist Charlie Hunter, keyboardist DJ Harrison, drummer Corey Fonville and the Huntertones brass players.
Additionally, The Bad Plus consisting of Chris Speed on tenor saxophone, Ben Monder on guitar, Reid Anderson on bass and Dave King on drums pushed the threshold by melding fusion, avant-garde and jazz. Nicholas Payton on trumpet, bass and keyboards and New World Order comprised of Cliff Hines on modular synthesizer and guitar, and Sasha Masakowski on loops, drum machine and vocals daringly created experimental grooves and textures, along with Nina Simone’s “Freedom.” Ever popular “people’s vocalist” Gregory Porter concluded performances in the Lyons’ Arena with a soul-drenched set that included the Temptations “My Girl” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Musical Genocide,” “Mister Holland,” and “No Love Dying.”
Most importantly, MJF yielded to the winds of change and spotlighted a significant amount of youthful and fast emerging artists. Among them were harpist Brandee Younger who channeled a mélange of Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby and her own originals, while acknowledging the passing of Sanders and Charles Mingus’ wife /producer/ manager Sue. British multi-instrumentalist/singer Emma Jean Thackray created groove styled danceable selections from her Yellow and Yellow Vol.2 albums. Vibraphonist Joel Ross spun a web of intoxicating rhythms and motifs with his Good Vibes Band. Ross also did a “young lions” set with keyboardist Gerald Clayton and alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins that was equally spellbinding.
Veronica Swift made her Lyons Stage debut and zealously spanned jazz, rock and Broadway. Butcher Brown, a Richmond, Virginia-based group served up ‘70s funk/jazz quintet with a touch of hip-hop. Blind virtuoso organist Matthew Whittaker was spontaneity plus and jumped from jazz, pop and Motown. Not to be forgotten or overlooked was the 2022 edition of the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra Directed by Gerald Clayton. They gave the audience a good sampling of the great talent destined to be leading their own ensembles at upcoming MJF concerts. Unquestionably, as the jazz “old guard” continues to fadeaway the festival will make the necessary and critical adjustments to remain a vital part of jazz history and the jazz community at large.
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